Garganey post-script

Having sea-watched over a hundred Garganey off the coast of Costa Brava during our recent week away in Spain, I was interested to read this account of Garganey in the Birdguides weekly round-up.

And, on my return to Cley NWT yesterday – four of these fabulous ducks on the reserve – iPhone record shot

Tres cheers for Spanish restoration

Estany d’Ivars i Vila-sana in it’s hay-dayfortunately, the newly restored lake is now a wildlife haven

A second attempt to find Dupont’s Lark – this time visiting the excellent SEO Birdlife reserve at El Planeron – was only half successful, in that we heard a couple but failed to see anything in less than optimal conditions. After which, on the way home, we took a detour to Estany d’Ivars i Vila-sana. This lake, the largest in Catalonia, is a triumph of Spanish (Catalan) habitat restoration. The lake was historically seasonal but all that changed in the 1860’s with the creation of the Urgell Canal. The associated accumulation of ground water increased the size of the lake to around 135 ha, and it quickly became a centre of social, economic and cultural life for the surrounding villages. However, with the increased demand for irrigation and arable land meant that by 1951 the lake was completely dry, and it remained so for more than fifty years. But, with a community-backed initiative to buy out the 165 settlements and create the right conditions, the restoration of the lake began in earnest in 2002. It took four years for the lake to re-fill and the major expansion of biodiversity which followed. We walked the 6.5k path around the lake, enjoying water-birds, early migrants and resident species. The highlight was superb views of a pair of Penduline Tit nest-building – unfortunately the battery was flat on my camera so no pics! A last sea-watch this evening produced an excellent Black-throated Diver.

There were several pairs of bill-clacking White Stork around the lake
Record shot of this evening’s diver

Birding Belchite

Lesser Short-toed Lark (mediterranean) – nice but no substitute

We’ve taken a break from the relentless Santa Susanna ‘sunshine’ (I wish) and come inland to the Zaragoza plains in search of desert species – in particular larks. We stopped off at several spots on our way to our over-night lodgings in Belchite, adding a few more species to the list – which now stands at 70+. Top spot goes to a magnificent 2cy Golden Eagle which drifted over the plain before briefly alighting on a pile of stones by the roadside. A young male Hen Harrier, along with Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Little Owl all added raptor interest. Perhaps the most surprising sighting though was of several pairs of Chough seen on various derelict farm buildings – hadn’t thought of them as being a Spanish lowland species. We did see a few larks as well – Crested, Calandra and Lesser Short-toed (Mediterranean) but alas no Dupont’s, our target species. Ah, I nearly forgot to mention the sea-watching bonus this morning – a flock of five Little Ringed Plover and a Little Egret in off. 

Young Golden Eagle – our bonus bird of Belchite
Calandra Lark – in abundance
These fly-by Little Ringed Plover were a sea-watch bonus

Sea-watch supplement

Fifteen of our 70 sea-watching Garganey with three Shoveler in tow

The weather here in Spain has continued to be miserable – cold, wet and windy. Nether-the-less we did mange a brief outing to the local castle at Palafolls, where we added a few species, including Peregrine and Crag Martin. Yesterday was Jane’s BIG Birthday, so we indulged ourselves in a day of tourism – visiting Casa Dali at the picturesque sea-side town of Cadaques. Hence, the only real birding I’ve managed has been a couple more hours sea-watching from my indoor ‘hide’ of Joe & Gabi’s penthouse apartment. Generally it’s been quiet but I did manage a ‘sea-watching first’ with a fly-by Audouin’s Gull, several more impressive flocks of Garganey, I estimate 70 birds in total, and three Shoveler, tagged on to the back of one of the groups. Today, in a brief weather-window, we head off to the plains of Zaragoza for a bit of larking about.

My fly-by Audouin’s Gull – a sea-watching ‘first’
Interior of Casa Dali.He kept the swans as pets and had them stuffed when they died

New haunts, old favourites

Audouin’s Gull – an old Spanish favourite – at the mouth of La Tordera river

Like many we’ve seen in Spain, the small La Tordera river meets the sea flowing across intensive agriculture / market gardens, squeezed between sprawling holiday resorts. At it’s junction with the sea there is a small estuary with a couple of bird blinds. The habitat is good and the birdlife interesting. Yesterday, before the rain set in for the afternoon, we spent an hour or two seeking out some old favourites. The fields held mixed flocks of House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Serin, Chaffinch and Linnet, with the odd Black Redstart, Hoopoe and Pheasant. The reed-lined river was home to Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff. At the estuary itself the gulls loafing on the sand-bar included Audouin’s – always nice to be reacquainted – whilst a Bonxie flew by close to the shore. Around the edge White and Yellow Wagtail (Iberian race) fed along with a pair of Shoveler. A good spot, close to Santa Susanna, to spend a lazy Sunday morning birding. Meanwhile, back at the sea-watching hide – aka Joe & Gabi’s 6th floor apartment – things on the sea had quietened down. Still a few Gannets and distant shearwaters but nothing like the day before. There were still several large flocks of Cormorant heading north, probably 300 in total, but they to were distant.

Grab shot of distant Hoopoe (with Collared Dove) before it flew off

Sea-watching, Santa Susanna style

Five Black-winged Stilt fly by on Spanish indoor sea-watch

We arrived in Catalonia on Friday evening, to stay with Joe and Gabi in their rented seaside apartment in Santa Susanna. Yesterday was the worst weather I can remember having in Spain – it poured down all day with a moderate north wind. Triple glazing and rain splattered windows made sea-watching difficult but I did have a very productive session in the late afternoon. The highlights of which were: the local Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls were joined by Mediterranean and Lesser Black-backed; a steady stream of Gannet; two Great Skua; 50 Golden Plover; four Whimbrel; Scopoli’s & Balearic Shearwater; 800+ Cormorant; a flock of 15 Garganey and, perhaps best of all five Black-winged Stilt. I also had a bedraggled Alpine Swift fly by at eye-level. Not bad for a day spent indoors.

Garganey was a new sea-watch species for me
Just a few of the 800+ Cormorant seen heading north
Not the best viewing conditions from my Santa Susanna sea-watching ‘hide’!